by Brian A. Wilkins
This day corresponds with Tuesday, July 29. Court Dates were all the same; with slight variations. The first was the worst in every way since I had yet to experience actually GETTING to court.
Around midnight of the day you go to court, a guard will speak to you through the intercom in your cell. “Wilkins…you want to shower and shave for court?” Sure I’d love to shave, but not with the cheap, disposable razors they give you. Plus I guess it would have been too humane a gesture for them to provide shaving cream (which they did not).
You are called from your cell again around 4 a.m. The guards give you clean stripes, (shirt and pants) but you’re not given clean boxers or socks. This small act of humanity could have at least been reserved for when you returned to jail from court. You are then told to put your hands on a wall and spread your legs. Chains are then wrapped around each of your ankles, leaving you with maybe 30 inches of chain to walk with. You could take steps only as big (or small) as the chains allowed. Next you are told to turn around and put your hands in front of you with your thumbs up. Handcuffs are then snapped around your wrists, then the guards chain your handcuffs to another person’s handcuffs. There is maybe 3 feet of chain between you and the guy you were chained to.
You are then walked (waddled) through several hallways until you reach these 20X20 “tanks.” With 60+ people already crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, ass-to-dick in there, they squeeze 20-30 more in; myself included. Here you will stand completely still for over an hour. One centimeter in front of your face is lint-filled hair that probably hadn’t been washed in weeks. Two centimeters to your right (unless you were lucky enough to be on the wall) is a man whose stench is worse than raw sewage. Sadly, his individual smell was rosy compared to the collective landfill aroma in the room. One inhale smells of baked-on armpit sweat, the next of flatulence, the next of the feces a man dropped in a toilet only 3 feet away, and the next of this filthy, disgusting man’s breath who turned to me and asked, “what are you here for?” I felt like human cargo. Vomiting could have caused a riot, so every drop that made it up the esophagus and into your mouth either had to be re-swallowed or spit on your own feet.
Mercifully, the guards begin calling names, slowly emptying the room. It would eventually get to a point that you could turn your head and not risk rubbing your lips against filthy hair or boiled-filled faces. An old guy in there fell to the ground, motioning like he was having a heart attack. It took at least 15 minutes for one of the guards to actually stop and help the guy. I never heard what happened to him, but he didn’t look good when they finally carried him out of there.
You’re then lined up and chained together by the feet of the guy you are already chained by the hands too. I guess because I was classified as medium security, this was a necessary step. Slowly and carefully, you walked to a bus. The hardest part was walking up the steps with your ankles shackled together and your wrists and hands shackled to another person. The front of the bus had seats with clear plastic cages around them. I think they were used for minors, women, and the insane.
You continue walking to the back until seats fill and you sit in your default location. The windows were like looking out the peephole of your front door. The only way you could see where you were going was by trying to look forward through all those cages, then through the windshield. Seeing all the cars and sunlight shook me up a little, as I thought of how frustrated I used to get by rush-hour traffic. What I wouldn’t have given to be spilling half of my venti, hot white chocolate mocha with an extra espresso shot on myself…
You then arrived in downtown Phoenix, at what I think was the “4th Avenue Jail.” Just when you thought the worst was over, it was just getting started. You are filed off the bus and lined up in a hallway where you’ll stand for 10 minutes. As female inmates are filed in and out, the men whistled, stared, drooled, and one even started masturbating (in front of everyone). The guards then unhook you from your cuff partner’s ankles and wrists.
You’re led to another tank, but this time they give you your “ladmo bag” for the morning. I noticed at this jail, you got the fruit punch in the little plastic, miniature barrel, not the milk, with your “food.” And it was always peanut butter with the bread; never the “meat.” But you never knew what kind of bread you would get. Sometime you got rock-solid frozen french rolls, or really flaky slices, and sometimes cinnamon-raisin bread. The “Global Brands” sandwich cookies and rotten plums or way-too-ripe oranges rounded out the bag. The food’s sheer raunchiness makes it hard enough to eat; people using the toilet and various body odors made it that much tougher.
I forced down the beverage and a few bites of fruit before being lined up again. This time, some are re-shackled, while others are moved to other tanks to await court in this building. I was being transported to the Mesa courthouse, so I was shackled and put into another tank before the 2nd bus ride. Upon arrival in Mesa, you are put in yet another tank ,but this time it was slightly more “humane”…only about 25 people in a 15X15 cell.
An hour went by before you are led to a room where at least 30 other men and women sit in shackles waiting for a public defender to come talk to them. There was no such thing as privacy; your charges, pleas, etc. were all talked about, aloud, and in the open by the public defenders. The only time the room would get quiet was when the public defenders started talking to the client. This would be the first time, after 8 days in jail, I’d get the opportunity to confer with a lawyer. The “conference” if you will, lasted about 120 seconds.
“Ok, you Wilkins? Good. Looks like we can get you 4 months in prison on a plea deal. Just sign here,” the pugsley man said. “Are you interested in any of the facts and evidence in the case?” I asked him. “Sure, go ahead,” he said. I knew it would be a waste of time trying to talk to him, as he jumped from “client” to “client” in a matter of minutes. Instead I asked him for a copy of the police report and advised him to motion for my release conditions to be modified. I knew the $54,000 bond was ridiculous and they had to lower or eliminate it once I was given the opportunity to say something.
Forty minutes later, my time before a judge would finally arrive. It would last less than 100 seconds, 45 of which was the commissioner introducing the case. I wasn’t given an opportunity to say anything and I had no attorney there to “defend” me. The public defender guy said, “the defendant has asked us to motion for his release or to modify his conditions of release.” The commissioner said, “we would need to get a hold of the victim before we could release him.” I thought to myself “the victim? The victim is standing right in front of you lady!” That was the extent of the hearing, concluded by her saying a preliminary hearing was set for Friday, August 1.
The 8-10 hours of monkey-ball rigamarole would finally end after being transported back to LBJ. I felt like a dead zombie, if that’s possible. You are greeted by D.O.’s telling you to strip down, spread your cheeks, and lift your sack. Then of course, for good measure, you are locked in yet another tank with 35-40 people. I thought the least they could do is give clean clothing upon return, since you are made to experience some of the most unsanitary, inhumane conditions people can possibly endure. Not a chance. All you can do is shower and rinse your clothes off while you’re in there. Either that or sleep in those nasty clothes. I would wait until lockdown for the night to do so, since it would take at least all night for the clothes to hang dry.
Everybody wanted to ask 20 questions when I walked back into that cell block but I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I went to the cell, wanting to get out of those nasty clothes and just lie down. But when I got there, Mario was there picking up all of our belonging. While we were at court, the D.O.’s had come in and tore the place up. Mattresses, magazines, and papers were all over the floor. They took the sheets of paper I had been writing on and even threw the mattress sheet in the toilet. I guess this was their way of adding insult to injury…but not for Mario. “They gave me probation, man! I’m leaving tonight,” he said. I told him I was not getting out and was going back to court on Friday. “Man I’m sorry bro. They’ll definitely let you out Friday.”
But would they? I was numb the rest of the day. When they called for chow, I got the tray and gave it to Chino. I lied in that bunk, on the cold mattress (without a sheet), dressed only in my boxers, covered as well as the blanket could, and read through that police report. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. The police had ignored evidence and everything I had told them and that guy and his “witness” set me up because I didn’t pay them. The way the police report was written made me look like some negligent, drunken shooter. According to the report, the alleged “victim” didn’t remember half the night “because he was too drunk.” The fact he’s on probation and got his story all mixed up did not deter the police from their mission, I thought.
On the bright side, with Mario leaving, I could move to the bottom bunk, away from the air conditioning vent. But that night, I lied on the top bunk, freezing while my stripes hang-dried after I rinsed them off in the shower. Mario was very talkative and positive, but he knew I wasn’t really in a talkative mood. I barely spoke to anyone the whole day and skipped prayer circle. At lockdown, I knew I wouldn’t sleep because I was cold and because my stomach hurt so bad. All I could do now was hope and pray I would get out on Friday. But now I felt like the odds were against me.